Want More Clients? Explain Yourself.


I recently wrote about how and why arTEESTes piss me off, and I used the example of an average guy I called Joe, who doesn’t really know why one copywriter or web designer should be worth more than another. He chooses the lower-priced freelancer out of sheer practicality.

It’s simple: Two guys do the same job. One of them does it for cheaper. If that were all the information I had, I’d go with the cheaper guy, too.

So what does it take to convince Joe that he should plunk down three times as much for your copywriting instead of hiring the guy off Elance who can’t punctuate properly?

You really need to explain yourself. That’s simple too.

I discuss this all the time with clients of mine who want me to write their website copy. I ask, “Can you tell me more about the benefits of people hiring you?”

“Well, we’re awesome!” they answer.

“No, no,” I say. “Of course you’re awesome. But you have to explain to site visitors how your awesomeness benefits them. That’s how they’ll become your customers.”

This usually gets me some blank stares, but here’s how it goes:

Joe has two freelancers trying to get his attention. One says, “I’m awesome, and I can write your website copy for $25 a page.” The other guy says, “I’m even more awesome than friggin’ awesome, and I can write your website copy for $250 a page.”

Joe looks at these two options and thinks, “You know what? I want awesome. Awesome is good for me. I don’t think I need even more friggin’ awesome. Just awesome is fine. I’m not Nike or Coca-Cole, after all.”

And Joe makes his decision. The high-priced freelancer loses.

Okay, now try this on for size:

Joe has two freelancers bidding for his attention. One says, “I’m awesome, and I can write your website copy for $25 a page.”

Now the other guy says, “I’m awesome. But what’s more important is that my awesomeness is going to make you lots of money. It’s going to convince your potential customers that your business is more professional and more credible and better than your competition. You see, most people only look at a website for about two seconds (literally) before they decide whether to stay. I make them stay, I keep them there, and I make sure they think you’re so awesome they want to give you their money. Does that sound like something you’d like?”

“Um . . . yes,” says Joe. “Yes, it does. This… sounds awesome.”

So the freelancer says, “You can have that, Joe. It can be yours, and for only $250 a page, you can have your customers staying on your site, deciding to do business with no one else but you and put their money right in your pocket.”

Joe looks at these two option. He can go with the first guy who promised him generic awesomeness, or he can choose the second guy who clearly knows the impact of great copy on a customer and presumably also knows how to execute that project to get the best reaction out of Joe’s customer. That second guy seems very confident.

On the one hand, the first guy is cheaper.

On the other hand, if the second guy brings in even ONE of the new customers he claims he can, Joe has recouped the price of the website copy.

Joe may still decide to go with the cheaper freelancer, but he’s going to think about it a lot longer and a lot harder.

If – and only if – the second guy, the one with the higher rates, explains himself.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. James,

    Thanks for this analysis. Explanation makes a big difference, it supports you’re the claim of awesomeness. The freelancing world is a competitive world, justifying our skills and emphasizing what we can do gives us a shot among all our competition. People love guarantees, so explanation influences the client’s decision a lot.
    I was reminded of my resume back then where I do not even bother to put an objective and qualifications on it (imagine it has only my demographic and some few data)— one reason I wasn’t even called up for an interview. I realized it when a company sent me back my resume via a close friend and asks me to revise my paper, and then submit it again.
    .-= Alex Lim´s last blog ..An Email Marketing Strategy That Crushes Your Competition! page3 =-.

  2. I completely agree with you on this. We must not assume that the client knows what he gets if they hire us. We are not so famous! :0)
    Good explanation James, thank you!
    .-= Solomon´s last blog ..HEADLINE or HEARTLINE? =-.

  3. James…you had me at hello.

    All joking aside, I think it depends on where someone is at in their evolution as a business owner. Early on, people will still want to try and get away with poor copy. Over time though, most of us “wake up” and realize that if we want to make money like the big boys, we’ve got to spend money to hire the big boys.

    Then again, I’ve hired copy guys that didn’t even look at my product, I knew instantly that I’d made a mistake.

    good post :)
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Chris Brogan’s 2009 Blogworld Expo Keynote =-.

  4. Great follow up post. I think like everything you need to sell the benefits of what you’re selling as opposed to saying I offer X and Y services. All people are interested in is what’s in it for them. At the end of the day if you want a quality product, you will fork out the $$$ in order to have that.

  5. Ooo this has to be one of the best articles you’ve written (and that certainly is difficult to achieve!).

    Methinks I’m going to revisit some web copy on my site right now. Thanks for the insights!
    .-= Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog ..Work Brilliantly, Not Blindly =-.

  6. James,

    You know what? I want awesome. Awesome is good for me. I don’t think I need even more friggin’ awesome. Just awesome is fine.

    I once had a mentor say to me, “Why *Maximum* Customer Experience? Most people will give their customers *good enough* customer and be pleased at that.”

    “Not everybody can work with me,” was my answer. If I can explain myself well, then I don’t have to work with anyone who just wants good enough. I only want clients who want to make money by being extraordinary.

    Which is what I always feel when I’m reading pieces you write. You want to work to help people communicate in extraordinary ways. That’s what your customer needs.

    If you explain it well, you’ll find a way to tap into what the customer needs so deeply that they cry with relief and throw money at you. :)


    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Imagine You Needed To Kick Ass, Starting Today =-.

  7. I use this type of mindset all the time at work. My company provides daily staffing. I get asked all the time, why should I use you vs ABC down the road who is 30 cents cheaper (or whatever amount). My answer is simple: they can’t give you the one thing my comany can…ME! And I AM worth it. It is my dedication, my customer service, my availability and MY track record you are paying for and if I can make no other promise in life, I CAN say that I AM WORTH IT!
    So, ok, perhaps that is a simplified version of your reasons, but the simple fact remains-give them a reason to buy!

  8. @ Stephanie – Sometimes “me” isn’t good enough, and you’re right to want to explain the benefits of you. It’s like you said, give them a reason to buy.

    @ Kelly – “Throw money at you” has got to be one of my most favorite phrases of everything you ever say. Each time you use that one on me, I find myself suddenly thinking, “Yeah… yeah, that’s what I want… throw money at me…”

    I should’ve been a go-go dancer.

    @ Barbara – I think the best article I ever wrote was “Are You Struggling Over a Small Readership?” At least, that’s the one that always comes to mind. (Mostly because Kelly did something fantastic with it and I have her awesomeness hung on my wall.)

    @ Wendy – I recently had a dilemma of not understanding why someone I wanted to hire couldn’t clearly tell me why I wanted to throw money at them. I had the money, I was ready to throw, I *did* want this person, and I kept sitting there thinking, “But why should I throw it? Give me good reason! And I will!!”

    Alas… I am still holding that money. And they aren’t.

    @ Nathan – … I can’t stop laughing. You twit. Had me at hello… hehehe

    @ Solomon – I’m famous. (At least, I like to think so.) And every day, I still have to explain to people why they want to hire me. When I’ve had enough coffee, I usually do a fair job of it. 😉

    The point is, it’s important to remember that no matter who you are, no matter how famous or popular or great you are, you will always need to be ready to explain WHY YOU.

    @ Alex – Ah, you see? Excellent story. Even offline, even in “real” jobs, even in various moments of our lives, we will always have to explain ourselves.

    Here’s another example: Kids. Kids won’t do ANYTHING (even the stuff they want to do) unless they have clearly been explained the benefits. Get it right, and win! Get it wrong and… oy. Yeah.

  9. I just wrote about this topic over at World Domination (entitled What do you Do? – http://arthurpledger.com/2009/10/24/what-do-you-do/). I dont think people put enough effort into explaining themselves or their business, so I really appreciate this post!
    .-= Arthur Pledger´s last blog ..What Do You Do? =-.

  10. This is probably one area I have problems with when selling my web development servies. I know why I’m awesome, but I either have a hard time explaining why to the clients (because they don’t understand why the back end is as important as the design) or because sadly, the agencies themselves don’t care and think they can get away with giving their clients crappy code.

  11. Excellent post. It clearly illustrates why writers need to market their services and differentiate themselves in the marketplace in very understandable terms (at least from my perspective).

    I know that writers (myself included) are often uncomfortable marketing themselves, but if we don’t do it how can a client be expected to understand how our services are different.

    Even more importantly, how can we expect a client to trust us to write copy that sells their products or services when we don’t write copy to sell our own products and services?
    .-= Laura Spencer´s last blog ..Six Foundations of Freelance Success =-.

  12. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    Loved the example that if you hire the more expensive awesomer person they can recoup their cost with the first sale. Seems like that would seal the deal.

    Now, if only each of us almost awesome, awesome wannabees could have that confidence.

    The first time I really noticed the difference between a regular person and a writer/reporter’s skills was in the descriptions of the 9-11 attack. The regular person had black smut on their face, but used words to describe their experience as “horrific…unimaginable…devastating…”

    The experienced writer/reporter said, “Each time you heard a thud on the awning you knew it was another human being….”

    It was the qualitative difference in their answers that made the difference for me.

    Geesh, now I’m thinking about the thuds… AGAIN! Guess that is another difference–great description haunts you forever.

  13. “I’m awesome. But what’s more important is that my awesomeness is going to make you lots of money.”

    So, how do you prove that? With testimonials? Case studies? Screenshots of analytics? Anyone, even the $25 dollar provider, can say that their copy will help the client generate more sales. But how can you guarantee that? Is it simply a matter of building up a strong reputation and being confident?

  14. Fantastic post! I do believe that people are willing to pay a higher price if it means that they will receive more bang for their buck. However, as you pointed out, if you are able to justify your prices as the second freelancer did and you deliver on your promise–your customers will market your product for you. You might not have to find yourself justifying your prices because your work will speak for itself.

  15. Kathleen, I’m no expert, but I think it boils down to having a unique plan that you are confident in using and explaining to your clients. I think much of it boils down to be able to tell them how you are going to pull out the rocketsauce.
    .-= Nathan Hangen´s last blog ..Chris Brogan’s 2009 Blogworld Expo Keynote =-.

  16. @nhangen Thanks, I guess I worry that I could come up with this brilliant plan that in my mind would work, but how could I prove it to the client? I know that plenty of my clients would be able to attest to the fact that I have done great work for them, but I am not sure if I would be able to prove that my work has brought them strides ahead of the competition and helped them generate x amount of sales. I suppose if you sound very sure of yourself, no one would even ask for proof.

  17. The title says it all. You cannot just say you are awesome when you are asked why should they choose you. Of course, who would say that they are not awesome? What the client want to find out are things they can get from hiring you. Vague answers never satisfy an inquisitive mind.

  18. @ Luigi – You reminded me of something: You *can* say you’re awesome, but then again, *everyone* thinks they’re awesome – and if they don’t, they shouldn’t be in business :)

    @ Kathleen – Let’s assume you’ve just become a freelancer. Yay! You have no history, no clients, no experience. And you need to land your first gig.

    You *HAVE* no proof. Your job is not to PROVE yourself. Your job is to CONVINCE your potential client that you can do what you promise, and that what you promise is a good thing for that person.

    @ Nathan – Rocketsauce. I’m so using that.

    @ LaTosha – Ahh, the benefits of doing a fantastic job – less marketing and more word-of mouth referrals. The best kind!

    @ Kathleen – I’ve had rare clients who want me to guarantee X percentage of sales or Y growth or whatever. There are a few things that come to mind when this happens:

    1. I obviously haven’t convinced my client that I can do a good job if he feels enough risk that he needs a guarantee of some sort.

    2. The client flatters me by thinking that only my copy has anything to do with his success – and I kindly thank him then point out all the extra factors that influence his success that I have no control over.

    @ Mary – I read an article yesterday about the upcoming trial for the United Nations and the 8,000 people who died. These are usually pretty boring… except this one used two lines – one near the beginning and one at the end – that described something about music in the square that left chills on my arms. That’s awesome.

    @ Laura – Ooooh:

    How can we expect a client to trust us to write copy that sells their products or services when we don’t write copy to sell our own products and services?


    @ Amber – You and Laura should talk 😉

    @ Arthur – World domination! Have you been sneaking peeks at my plans?!

  19. Kathleen and James,

    While I agree that you might not have any hard-and-fast numerical proof, I want to make one suggestion for what to do now— and one suggestion for going forward that could get you more proof.

    For now—ask for testimonials (written praise) from current/ past clients. Tell them that you’d love it if they’d write a little recommendation, and if they’ve seen business grow since you worked with them, it would be super if they could mention that. Letting other people blow your horn for you (“I worked with Kathleen and inquiries at my site shot up 20% in two weeks!”) is a lot more successful than saying it yourself (“I can make your business grow up to 20%”) anyway.

    Going forward—ask new clients if they’d be willing to think about their business in numerical terms at the beginning of the project and then report back in (three weeks, three months, whatever’s an appropriate length of time for their size business), because you’d like to hear about their progress. Progress is not just number of sales, it might be inquiries, web traffic, or even size of projects. Tell them that you’re going to do such a great job for them that you’ll be asking for that testimonial later, too.

    (And by the way, you do the follow-up; don’t hope that they’ll remember to ring you up months after the project’s over.)

    Sure, there are lots of factors that contribute. But if working with you is the one major change that happened at that moment, then it’s probably the majority of the reason for their increase.

    BONUS—Telling the client to look at things in those terms—and telling them you’ll be back for a good word from them later—shows them right now, “I grow your business and I’m confident about it” without you having to directly state that.

    Ah, my 2¢ always runs a bit long here…

    (Hope that gives you a bit to think about, Kathleen.)

    Until later,

    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..I’ll Never Go Back There Again! QUIZ =-.

  20. Awesome!

    I feel many potential clients will pay more money for the write freelancer. I call this the “Big Screen TV” factor (oooh blog post coming up…) You see, when Mr. Ng bought our 40 incher, he didn’t go to WalMart to buy the one on sale. He shopped around. He read up on all the brands. He paid more money for the product with the best reputation that will last the longest and give us more bang for our buck.

    Clients want bang for their buck. They may not know this, but it’s what they want. So when they’re presented with two prices, they’ll accept the lower price. When presented with the bang they’re getting for their buck, it’s a whole different ball game. The lowest estimate isn’t always the best estimate. It’s our jobs as writers to convince our clients why this is so.
    .-= Deb ng´s last blog ..BlogWorld 2009 How Does Your Light Shine =-.

  21. @ Deb – There you go, said so perfectly. “What’s the bang for my buck?” YES! (Hee, I noticed you do the “right/write” thing too – I’m not alone!)

    @ Kelly – I’m averse to numbers at the moment, specifically because of the FTC rulings (which appear to only apply in the States). Call it paranoia.

  22. James,

    The FTC doesn’t say a client can’t say what results they’ve had in a testimonial, does it?

    Ech, you made me go re-read it to be sure. From the ruling:

    Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser. Furthermore, an endorsement may not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser.

    So: They have to tell the truth.

    Also: if the results are NOT typical, you have to state it loudly. But you already had to do that under the old rules. The new ruling says state it more loudly. (Better to use testimonials with results that are typical… after all, you want other folks to see themselves having the same success, not being disappointed later!)

    Also: if you paid them to say those nice things, you have to state it even louder. (But that would be counterproductive when you’re trying to get folks to believe you, so better not to pay someone to say nice things about you!)

    True and reasonable testimonials with numbers that are typical of what other clients will get from working from you are still cool. And they’re still more convincing than talking about results yourself–which, under the new rules, has to follow all those guidelines above anyway.

    Those silly rules are going to be a source of confusion for a long time, methinks.


    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..I’ll Never Go Back There Again! QUIZ =-.

  23. Recently, on another site, a guy who hires writers was interviewed and said he negotiates (downward) even reasonable bids. My comment was censored. But there was at least one useful germ of info there–people need to know how to buy creative services–and these days many do not. If you are marking up a writer and passing the cost on to a client, experienced writers will work with that. As for this awesomeness factor, I try to show how I will make or save money for the client. I will say, my mailings pull 2-4%. I don’t design, but I will say I am used to working with designers. I will say I am available and will create a schedule that will do what they want done. What I don’t understand–and never will–is how a startup publication can take any old copy they can find for a pittance and try to establish a track record to get advertisers using poor, boring, or just plain dumb stories. Often writers are not even included in the business plan, if they have one, as a cost of doing business. The writing is just…nothing.

  24. @ Star – I have to disagree with you. People do *not* “need to know how to buy creative services”. It’s entirely up to the creative service professionals to provide the information people need *when* they want to buy these services.

    If I want to buy a bow and arrow, for example, and play Robin Hood, I do NOT need to know how to buy a bow. Nor do I expect to. I expect that when I head to the shop with my money in hand, the clerk is going to take care of me and tell me how to buy the proper bow for my needs.

    AND, if he does it well, he’ll get my money. If he doesn’t, then I’m none the wiser for having dealt with him and someone else gets my cash.

  25. Lexi Rodrigo says:

    James, this post has convinced me that all freelancers should have badic copywriting skills. Most stop at listing features – “I write SEO articles” or “I design beautiful logos.”

    In fact, people buy or hire because of the benefits – “You’ll get more traffic and backlinks through the articles I write” or “Your readers will stay longer on your site and click around more with my design.”

    We always have to think, “What’s in it for my client?”

    How about it, James? A little ebook on copywriting for freelancers?

    .-= Lexi Rodrigo´s last blog ..Day 29: To Find Clients, Give Away Useful Stuff =-.

  26. @ Lexi – Don’t give me more tempting ideas than I already have… 😉

  27. I definitely agree. The second guy communicated his value. Great article.

  28. This is even more important in the world of lifestyle design and self development where there’s a lot of people out there yelling “I’m awesome!” and next to nobody saying “you’ll benefit in this, this and this way.”

    And why don’t we? Because it’s so hard to speak in concrete terms about something so touchy-feely as lifestyle design.

    But just yesterday I decided to audit my website for the various paths people take and over the next few months I’ll be explaining myself in detail (but not too much), giving people stuff they can do to see the benefits right there on the site and showing my awesomeness instead of telling (as a good writer should). 😉
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..Controlling Creativity: Timeblocking My Way to Success =-.


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